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Lightening Up DressingsLightening Up Dressings

August 1, 2007

12 Min Read
Lightening Up Dressings

Salads are generally considered healthy meals, but just a few tablespoons of common dressings can add several hundred fat calories. While savvy dieters ask for dressing on the side portion control is one way to minimize caloric intake how can food developers lighten up their dressings?

Fat first 

In marketing, perception is everything, and perceptions about fat run the gamut from the absurd to the knowledgeable. Take the trans-fat issue: As long as there are no trans fats, notes Danny Bruns, corporate chef, Kerry Savory Ingredients, Waukesha, WI, many consumers find any product acceptable ¯never mind that trans fats are not significantly present in the liquid oils that make up most dressings. Its almost like they put a no-cholesterol sticker on a potato, he says. Its not going to be there, but its perceived healthy.

Some labeling dilemmas arise in the definition of salad dressing. Galina Lubachevsky, senior food scientist, seasoning development and applications, Fuchs North America, Inc., Owings Mills, MD, says, to be called a salad dressing, the formulation has to follow guidelines set forth by the Code of Federal Regulations regarding the amount of vegetable oil and egg yolk. According to 21 CFR Pt. 169.150, salad dressing contains not less than 30% by weight of vegetable oil and not less egg yolk-containing ingredient than is equivalent in egg yolk solids content to 4% by weight of liquid egg yolks.

An obvious choice for healthier dressings would be low-saturate oils. The most commonly used is soybean, says Joanne Ferrara, senior director of R&D, Spicetec, Cranbury, NJ. Its an excellent base foundation for the other ingredients and is cost effective. Conventional soybean oil contains about 25% oleic fatty acid, the same monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil.

Bruns suggests olive oil and grape-seed oils, because of their consumer acceptability. Canola and sunflower oil provide other healthy options. In response to the trans issue and general stability problems with highly unsaturated oils, a number of oilseeds with an array of fatty-acid profiles have been created.

Depending on the type of dressing, the oil selection can become an art form in regard to stability. Lipid or fat oxidation is the major cause of quality degradation in food emulsions, says Ferrara. Since stability is a key concern to the manufacturer, the choice of the oil is important. Monounsaturates oxidize more quickly. Since many salad dressings require refrigeration when opened, the oxidative- stability index must be addressed during the development phase to guard against rancidity, she says. Time and temperature are taken into consideration as the oil oxidizes into volatile organic acids. Citric acid and vinegar can also assist the shelf life of salad dressings, as well as mixed tocopherols for their functional antioxidant properties.

New lipids suitable for dressings can help fight the battle of the bulge. Chris Warsow, executive corporate chef, Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, IL, has had success using Enova oil, a product offered by ADM, Decatur, IL, in partnership with KAO Corporation, Tokyo. What distinguishes this from other oils is the predominance of diacylglycerols. Most oils contain triacyglycerols or triglycerides. These diacylglycerols are uniquely located, so they seem to bypass traditional pathways of fat transport and storage. The net effect is that less fat is stored in the body, but, perhaps more importantly, some studies show this DAG-rich oil reduces bodyfat mass and weight.

Reducing fat 

Like any food matrix, dressings are a complex system. If one of the ingredients is removed or decreased, the balance of the food system is disrupted; therefore, tuning of the rest of the ingredients is required, says Lubachevsky, especially with low-fat or fat-free formulations. Because fat is a multifunctional ingredient that affects appearance, texture, flavor, mouthfeel and storage stability of the final product, she says, no simple rules exist to adjust the rest of the ingredients in a low-fat product, because each component is affected differently.

A low-fat product often has 10% to 25% fat. Ten percent is a good level, because you get enough flavor carrier through the fat, and yet you get a lower fat level, says Jenny Riede, senior food scientist, Kerry Savory Ingredients, Brookfield, WI. Yet, at 10%, creaminess and fat sensation will not come from one single ingredient. The creaminess can be achieved by combining the oil with gums and specialized starches that will mimic fat perception, she says.

Whey protein concentrate (WPC) can reduce fat and provide desirable characteristics. For example, 5% WPC 80 could be used in a fat-free, thousand island dressing, says Sharon Gerdes, technical support consultant, Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, IL. In salad dressings, whey protein concentrates with higher protein levels impart a nice dairy flavor. They also contribute to creaminess, opacity, emulsification and viscosity. WPCs are efficient water binders, helping to retain water, improve texture and reduce cost by replacing oil with water. There are a variety of cold-gelling WPCs on the market, which may be a good choice for salad dressings and mayonnaise.

Other dairy options include several specialty whey proteins from Grande Custom Ingredient Group, Lomira, WI. These contain 35% protein and bring specific functional modifications to low-fat, reduced-calorie dressings and no-fat applications. A typical usage rate would be approximately 2%, but would depend on which ingredients were being replaced and how much body, texture, creaminess and mouthfeel were desired, says Michelle Ludtke, senior food technologist, Grande Custom Ingredients Group. One ingredient gives a milky flavor and full-bodied texture. Another has a slightly tart dairy flavor and also contributes a full-bodied texture. Still another would be beneficial in dressings where heat is applied to less than 170ºF to provide a creamy texture without the full-bodied mouthfeel, she says. Whey proteins naturally contribute some emulsifying properties, which help increase the stability of the dressing.

Maureen Akins, lead food scientist, TIC Gums, Belcamp, MD, notes that dressings that are dairy-based tend to be the most difficult to stabilize and often are the best recipients of fat-replacement technology, she says. Hydrocolloids provide stability, viscosity and mouthfeel.

Some hydrocolloids, used either individually or in combination, will not only provide the mouthfeel of oil or fat, but will also help suspend inclusions and keep any oil still in the formulation from coalescing and separating out of the emulsion, says Joshua Brooks, vice president of sales, Gum Technology Corporation, Tucson, AZ. We are seeing a great deal of fat-replacement technology being used for dressings that might be perceived by the consumer as having a higher level of fat; for instance, creamy ranch-type dressings or mayonnaise- based dressings. For these products, a combination of cellulose gel, konjac and xanthan is effective as a fat mimic. The cellulose gel, when agitated, whips into a fattylike texture. Konjac and xanthan also create a synergistic, elastic-type gel that will hold up in a low pH.

Lower-fat dressings do not have significantly different stability issues than full fat, says Aida Prenzno, laboratory director, Gum Technology Corporation, noting that no-fat dressing is easy to thicken, but difficult to thicken without an undesirable mouthfeel. Whenever oil and water are present, even if its low fat, stability issues remain, she warns.

A stable, low-fat, low-calorie dressing still can fail because the mouthfeel isnt right. Fat provides a creaminess and lubricity that consumers expect in a dressing, says Akins. When the fat is removed, microcrystalline cellulose is frequently used to provide the fat mimetic effect.

Other ingredients also work well to mimic fat. Lubachevsky relies on carboxymethyl cellulose and starch-based mouthfeel enhancers. 

Traditionally, low-fat dressings have a higher sugar content to build back solids. When trying to create a low-fat dressing that is also low in sugar, its no longer possible to build solids in the same way, says Akins. This can be effectively accomplished by adding a stabilizer to boost viscosity. Xanthan and guar gum combinations and propylene glycol alginate (PGA) are frequently used to take advantage of the texture-building functions of each gum and avoid the texture problems that crop up when one gum is used to excess.

For egg-based dressings, Fuchs North America offers a deheated mustard that can partially replace eggs in salad dressings. Its an emulsifier and an antioxidant all at the same time, says Helga Nelson, senior food scientist, R&D supervisor. It adds no flavor at all, but it adds nice mouthfeel. However, it cannot be used with any other mustards, because once you introduce any other mustard into the formulation, then the enzyme in the deheated mustard is reactivated and heat becomes apparent again.

Vinaigrette variety 

Vinaigrettes are a healthy option, because they are typically low fat, with vinegar and a very, very small amount of oil, says Riede.

Various vinegars can provide bold flavor, but most manufacturers dont want to warehouse specific vinegars, says Julie Snarski, manager, culinary & foodservice development, David Michael & Company, Philadelphia.  An aged balsamic is going to linger in your mouth for a long time. A flavor can boost those characteristics; it can make a balsamic stronger, or it can add a cooked or aged character to an ordinary balsamic.

Vinegar also aids shelf life. By decreasing fat in the dressing system, you have to decrease the amount of vinegar, because vinegars harsh acidic notes may come out much stronger without fat smoothing them out, says Lubachevsky. In this case, microbiological stability of the final product should not be overlooked. Often, additional preservatives should be used to compensate for increased pH. Most salad dressings are below pH 4.2.

To tame a strong acidic note, Snarski recommends a vinegartoner flavor to deliver more flavor, instead of a white vinegar note, she says. Toners come in a variety of flavors, including apple cider, balsamic and tarragon.

Incorporation of fruit adds to vinaigrettes inherently healthy image as well as its flavor. Youre seeing superfruit inclusions that promote that healthy, antioxidant-type quality, notes Riede. It would automatically have a perceived health value. But you also get a lot of flavor from fruits, and you get a nice freshness.

Raspberry has become almost a standard, but other berries and fruits, such as cherries, can serve as alternatives. In addition, Snarski finds exotic fruits gaining in popularity in salad dressings, with introductions of papaya and passion-fruit flavors. Pomegranate, too, has increased dramatically.

Warsow recently developed a Mediterranean dressing with a pomegranate molasses. In a dressing, this flavor adds a very sour, very sweet note, he says. It can be used to add boldness to a lower-fat product.

For a variety of dressings, vegetables as single ingredients, blended purées or dried products can deliver big flavor with little to no fat, says Dan Hemming, senior food technologist, Gilroy Foods, Gilroy, CA. These products include a variety of on-trend ethnic blends, fire-roasted and grilled vegetables, and a variety of dry vegetable products, including an extensive line of chile peppers and chile powders, he says. Flavor profiles include Asian, Latin and Mediterranean, and can be further focused into a regional flavor; for example, Thai vs. a generic Asian flavor, or Cuban vs. a generic Latin flavor.

Vinaigrettes will either be high in salt or sugar, says Riede. In order to reduce that and give a healthier appearance, you end up using less salt and less sugar, but you end up losing a lot of flavor. Use of salt or sugar enhancers can provide the needed flavor boost.

To reduce salt in an Asian salad dressing, Jim Nolte, director, technical services, Nikken Foods, USA, Inc., St. Louis, suggests a reduced-salt soy sauce powder along with a natural flavor enhancer. Herb Bench, executive vice president of the company, sees an increase in requests to replace MSG and HVP in dressings with flavor enhancers and red miso powder. 

High flavor, low fat 

The challenge in lower-fat dressings is that, as fat content is lowered, flavor tends to intensify, but dissipates quickly. Fat influences both threshold perception and retention of flavors, says Lubachevsky. The lingering of flavor is a more-challenging problem than duplication of initial flavor impact of full-fat products.

Umami flavors can give a lingering sensation and flavor that will carry through a sauce or salad dressing, says Riede. Mushrooms, tomatoes and soy sauce also provide that sensation. At the threshold level, a mushroom powder would be used; it would not provide a flavor, yet creates umami.

In a fat-reduced product, sometimes simplicity is key. You can do things with roasted notes, Snarski suggests. Roasted garlic will hold in the mouth. Garlic is going to stay, but its not pleasant. Roasted garlic has sweetness, as does caramelized onion.

For a fresh approach, try IQF herbs like basil and oregano. Riede says: You use a little bit more, but it has a visual appeal and a little more flavor impact. To enhance flavor impact, she suggests backing it up with oleoresins or extracts.

Chimichurri is a bright, fresh flavor profile suggested by Warsow. Its a combination of parsley, lemon, olive oil and garlic, and, depending on where you are, maybe a few other herbs like oregano or cilantro, he says. Traditionally, you probably have a 50-50 mix of juice to oil. Cut down the amount of oil, a 75-25 mix of juice to oil, then add your herbs.

In the end, controlling calories by any means is not at all unlike serving dressing on the side. 

Cindy Hazen, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She can be reached at [email protected].

Just a Splash

Spritzing is a popular trend in dressings. People still want taste, but they dont want the calories. It becomes more of an upscale approach, says Danny Bruns, corporate chef, Kerry Savory Ingredients, Waukesha, WI.

Spritzers are water-based salad dressings in the form of flavor sprays. These are low-caloric, low-fat systems with high flavor concentrations, says Joanne Ferrara, senior director of R&D, Spicetec, Cranbury, NJ. An example of a low-fat, low-caloric salad dressing is one that can be made with lemon juice, xanthan gum and water. This combination mimics the impression of vegetable oil. Its neutral in flavor and is a good foundation for the addition of flavor components.

The key to developing a spray-on dressing is making certain it has impact. Overdose it in terms of flavor, says Chris Warsow, executive corporate chef, Bell Flavors & Fragrances, Northbrook, IL. Use some of the flavor enhancers to give it the full impact of flavor. The calorie contribution of spritzers is negligible, he says, as a serving is roughly 8 ml.

Helga Nelson, senior food scientist, R&D supervisor, Fuchs North America, Owings Mill, MD, sees the potential for bottles that meter out the oil and vinegar separately, or where the dressing is metered out in portions.

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